From “A storm in the Tea Cup” to “Understanding the Reaction Mechanisms of Anti-Cancer Platinum (II) Metal Complexes” was the title of the Dean of Science and Agriculture, Professor Deo Jaganyi’s Inaugural Lecture on the Pietermaritzburg campus on November 10.
Promoted to a full Professor in the School of Chemistry at the beginning of 2010, Professor Jaganyi devoted his Inaugural Lecture to highlighting his first research endeavours followed by his more recent activities. He started by explaining how, in 1992, while completing his PhD at Imperial College in London, he and his colleagues were approached by a major tea manufacturer wanting to know if they could figure out the nature and cause of tea scum. The company was keen to allay their customers’ fears that the scum on the surface of their cuppas was due to dangerous chemicals, and to stop them from resorting to coffee.
After much experimentation, explained Professor Jaganyi, the researchers were able to establish that due to the hard water in Britain (which is characterised by an accumulation of calcium and bicarbonate that is picked up from the beds of limestone) calcium carbonate is formed, which ultimately causes the scum found in tea. Their research was published in the prestigious journal, Nature, and caused quite a furore all over the world – the news even reached the New York Times. Further research revealed that loose tea leaves make the best and quickest cuppa as tea bags drastically reduce the rate at which flavours infuse into hot water.
Leaving tea bags behind, Professor Jaganyi went on to detail his recent research associated with platinum complexes in second generation anti-cancer drugs used to treat testicular and ovarian carcinomas, bladder tumours and tumours of the head and neck. The downside of many of these drugs is their toxicity and limited spectrum of anti-tumour activity. Although more than 3 000 platinum complexes have been synthesised and tested since the 1970s, only about 35 of these derivatives have entered into clinical trials, said Professor Jaganyi.